Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Summer Escape

I'm on my way to one of my favorite places.
My toes are itchin' for soft sand
And my head needs a rest.
I'll be back soon with lots and lots of photos.
I'll stop by to visit you all when I get back...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Kids at the Bar

Having children makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist. – Michael Levine

I hate hate hate when I see a kid in a bar. It’s not an appropriate environment for a child. They absorb every aspect of the bewildering spectacle with their innocent, impressionable little eyes.

I don’t care if you came here straight from your softball game with the team and you weren’t planning on staying long.

I don’t care if you think your little 5 year old is having a ball galloping around the dance floor to the overplayed tunes of the garage cover band.

Didn’t you notice that she almost got stepped on by the big drunk guy who was backing away from the bar with a pitcher in each hand, yelling to the bartender that he would be right back for two more?

Didn’t you notice your little one stopping and staring, mouth agape and eyes wide with astonishment, at the young couple leaning against the pole, her kissing and clawing voraciously at the man's neck, him clutching her barely-covered breast and eagerly grinding into her?

Don’t you see the other patrons shooting looks of disgust at you? They came here to let loose and have a good time, but those who aren’t already inebriated are now hesitant due to the unwelcome presence of your adorable little buzz-kill.

Don’t you realize that it’s 11:30 at night, and she’s rubbing her eyes as she walks in circles around the bar looking for you? It’s bad enough that you have subjected an innocent, doe-eyed child to this loud, clumsy, sticky den of beer and expletives, but to not even be keeping an eye on her is absolutely unconscionable.

I get so disgusted by people sometimes.

And what about the bars? I’m sorry, but if it’s 21 to get in, then it should be 21 to get in. Period. I’m sure if I showed up at our favorite watering hole with my 15 year old in tow, we would be turned away because she’s too young to be admitted. So why is it okay for a pre-schooler? Is a toddler any less vulnerable to the pandemonium of adult night life?


Maybe I feel so strongly about this because I was once the kid at the bar.

For those of you who are familiar with my blog, you know that I speak very highly of both of my parents. I was (and still am) blessed to have them, and I have few complaints about my upbringing. But I’ve never said it was perfect.

My mother was the champion shortstop on the local pub's softball team when she was in her 20’s. More than once the players ended up back at the Trails End Tavern for a victory celebration after the game. And since I was at the game, sometimes entertaining myself on the swings and the monkey bars, sometimes cheering on the team from the bench, sometimes off picking flowers for mommy - I ended up at the bar.

Yes, the team had use of the back room, so we were somewhat isolated from the other patrons.
But all the women were drinking and laughing and carrying on. I have an image in my head of my mother’s friend Kathy on her knees up on the table, shaking her very generous maracas and everybody howling and cheering. I probably didn't understand most of the conversations or the jokes.

But when they wanted to discuss something that even they had the sense to deem inappropriate for my little ears (I understand this in retrospect, of course), they asked me to get them pistachios out of the vending machine. The vending machine was out in the bar, so I would have to leave the relative safety of the back room, traverse the chaotic span of cacophonous drinking and merriment, around the guys playing darts, past the shuffle board bowling game and the cigarette vending machine, and over to the tall red machines with the nuts.

I remember thinking I was being very helpful as I slid the quarter into the slot, turned the metal handle, and received the red-stained seeds in my outstretched cupped hands. I felt proud as I brought them back and presented them to my mother’s friends, who thanked me and kissed me sloppily on my head and told me I was the best.

I thought it was fun at the time, and maybe I felt special to be out with Mom. But I do remember the cigarette smoke burning my eyes and throat, and I was always a little fearful of the drunken people because of my uncle, who was an alcoholic.

I was also a little worried that we were going to get in trouble with Dad.

Once we arrived home after midnight, and after I was put in bed I heard my parents arguing. My father was furious that my mother had me out at the bar. It was a really bad fight; my mother was crying. I remember thinking that I should go and tell my dad that it was okay, because I had fun being out. But I was afraid, and I stayed in my bunk and just listened and cried a little bit for Mom.

I remember other times when my father showed up at the bar and took me home. I was disappointed because I was having a good time with the girls and didn’t want to go yet. But I could tell that Dad was angry. He didn’t say much when he was angry.

Now that I’m older I can obviously see that my father was right.

When the subject comes up these days, my mother falls back on the fact that she was so young when she had us. “We were babies having babies,” she’ll say.

Hmm… I was about the same age, just before my 22nd birthday, when I had Mandy. I’ve never brought my precious girl out partying with me and she has never had to step over my passed out, hung-over body to use the toilet in the morning.
It’s an issue of maturity, not age.

But hey, I'm sure I'm not a perfect parent either. So I just nod my head and agree. “Yes, Mom, you were very young when you had us.”

Oh, well. Eventually my parents grew up. Although it was my father that didn’t approve of drinking or swearing around us kids, he was the one who had to learn patience and to keep his temper in check. They were both young. They both had their shortcomings.

It’s kind of funny to me now, actually, that I knew them both when they were young and immature. They watched me grow up; I watched them grow up.
But sometimes I wonder who my guardian angel was back then.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Faces in Your Crowd

Please note: Images illustrating this post were inspired by the recent challenge over at Round Robin Photo Challenges, which was mannequins! I thought I could combine this challenge with a post I was writing yesterday, so I set out with the specific goal of finding mannequins to represent different ethnicities. This was no easy task, because:

1) Most mannequins at the local mall are white.
2) Most mannequins at the local mall do not even have heads. I’ve come to the conclusion that mannequins with heads must be more expensive than those without. Those with realistic hair must cost an arm and a leg, or several of each as evidenced by the number of mannequins sans limbs.

Anyway, on to the post…


They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. - Andy Warhol

I watched a few minutes of a show on the Discovery Channel the other night about the prison system in the U.S. I didn’t watch the whole thing; it really wasn’t my kind of show. I tend to steer more toward history, science and nature shows, sometimes travel. Generally not toward anything that I might find disturbing, like plastic surgery or high tech weapons or The Simple Life.

The prison system seems like a nightmarish underworld that I would find frightening enough to induce cold sweats in the middle of the night. I turned the channel.

But this snippet I watched as I perused the Tuesday night prime-time offerings got me thinking...

They were discussing prison gangs and how prisoners “stick to their own” while incarcerated, meaning there’s a white gang, a black gang, an Hispanic gang, an Asian gang, etc. No one crosses racial lines; to do so is a death sentence, viewed as something akin to treason.

I was wondering how much that relates to our society in general. Do we all, for the most part, stick to our own? And when we don’t, isn't it viewed (by some) as an act of betrayal? Aren’t things said like “he’s trying to act black” or “she thinks she’s white”? Isn’t interracial marriage viewed by some as a rejection of one’s own race, culture, or heritage?

I went to a VERY white high school. I don’t know if even 10% of the student body represented minorities. It was probably less. So race wasn’t really an issue in my school, for the simple fact that the handful of Asian kids, black kids, Indian kids and Hispanic kids was just kind of rolled in with the rest of them. There were no factions in the cafeteria or anything like that.

(But oh, the gay kid suffered some despicable abuse at the hands of some nasty low-life bullies. That’s a whole other story.)

My high school boyfriend went to a different school, where his three best friends consisted of two black kids and a Puerto Rican kid. Even the teachers at this respected Catholic institution, which was in a very diverse area, called him a “whigger” for keeping such company. This was an obvious display of disloyalty to them, a blatant slap in the face of his white brethren. They expected him to stick to his own.

So how is it at school nowadays?

Mandy tells me a lot about her new high school and the kids she hangs out with. I'm familiar with all the names, even if I don’t know all of the faces yet.

When she received her yearbook a few weeks ago, I asked her to show me all the new friends I’d been hearing about this year. We sat together on her bed as she flipped excitedly through the pages, pointing out the nice mix of kids that are her friends and telling me stories about each one.

She hadn’t previously mentioned to me that so-and-so was black or so-and-so was Hispanic. She had never classified anyone this past year as being her “Asian friend” either. The stories she told me were just about her friends, no qualifiers necessary. As it should be.

She had mentioned to me once, though, that one of her friends is gay.

“Does anyone know that he’s gay?” I asked.

“Yeah, pretty much everyone. He doesn’t, like, hide it or anything.”

“Do the kids bother him about it at all?”

“Whaddaya mean?”

“Well, I was just wondering if they teased him at all about being gay.”

“Why would they?”

I told her a little bit about my high school friend and the appalling treatment he endured.

“That’s horrible!” she said. “No one does anything like that.”

“Well that’s good!”

“People just are who they are, y’know?”


But I wonder about us adults. Do we stick to our own? If you flip through your address book, or your buddy list, or the contact list in your cell phone, what do you see?

And if you are segregated in your social circle, do you think it has anything to do with the environment you grew up in, or your neighborhood, or the place you work? Do you think we could be hard-wired to seek out what is familiar to us? Or maybe we just behave as we were taught, or shown by the example set for us by our parents.

I know mine is a diverse crowd, more so than that of my parents. And it seems that Mandy is blind to the color barriers that divided the generations before us.

I think change starts at home.

"If you as parents cut corners, your children will too. If you lie, they will too. If you spend all your money on yourselves and tithe no portion of it for charities… your children won't either. And if parents snicker at racial and gender jokes, another generation will pass on the poison adults still have not had the courage to snuff out." - Marian Wright Edelman

Monday, August 6, 2007

Through Thick and Thin

I just started walking. What else could I do? One foot in front of the other; that doesn’t take any thought. You just do it. You walk.

My feet were transporting me up Main Street.

I don’t recall paying at the counter as I left the building, or coming out into the light of a day that was going to be different than all those that preceded it. Things would be different from here on out. I think I was calm and polite to the woman who handled the transaction and handed me the receipt, but it was all a blur now.

Shock and confusion were like a warm liquid seeping through my body, from the area right behind my eyes, down my neck and my back, through my extremities and right to my fingertips and toes. I was alone and numb. It’s a good thing my feet knew what to do. They walked…

Main Street was humming with cars and people scurrying about. It was a sunny day, and I enjoyed, as always, contemplating the flocks of birds that ricocheted across the sky between the brick buildings of downtown. What made them change direction so suddenly? And how did they all move in unison like that, maintaining their tight formation through abrupt movements? Was there one bird leading the others, redirecting the energetic mass of fluttering wings this way and that? Or were they merely dancing across some hidden currents of air rising up through the bricks and concrete?

Ah, yes, this is good. Distraction will get me home. One foot in front of the other…

But then what will I do?

I know. I’ll call my mom.

My mom… hmm. I smiled in spite of myself. My mother is an opinionated, thick-headed Irish woman, and if she’s had a glass of wine she can get downright belligerent on you.

Oh, and she is never wrong. Not a chance. She will argue a point until the cows come home, even if halfway through the dispute she realizes that her argument is complete folly.

And she must have the last word! It’s enough to make you need some wine of your own.

But let me tell you something, my mother is truly awesome.

I will never forget the day I made that call to her.

I was just beginning my senior year of college, a time when I was enjoying every minute of my life.

I had befriended an entire cast of strange and entertaining characters at the bar where I was a cocktail waitress four nights per week, and it seemed a new misfit joined our odd little play every night.

Other weeknights plus Saturdays and Sundays, I worked for the local newspaper in a cluttered, disorganized office that pulsed with energy as we raced against deadlines, worked into the night, and stole snippets of sleep here and there on the threadbare green couch in the middle of the studio.

By day I was absorbed in my classes, traversing the grounds of the university from one lecture hall to another, occasionally hitting the campus gym for a spin on the stationary bike, sometimes stopping in the food court for a snack to enjoy on the grassy hill outside.

I enjoyed my friends. Since it was senior year we were all living in apartments off-campus around town, most of us within walking distance of each other. The house I rented with two friends on Cleveland Avenue had a front porch and a cute fenced yard in the back. I used to lie on my belly on the lawn reading Ann Rice novels while my guinea pig “Wheatie” munched grass in a tight line around my perimeter. When he was done he would climb into the sleeve of my t-shirt and take a nap.

My life was good. And it was all about to change.

It wasn’t an easy call to make, that call to my mother. I’m sure she could hear the shakiness in my voice, the hesitance in my words.



“Um… ah… I’m pregnant.”

I was thankful that I had someone I could turn to for help, or even just advice, because being the only one that knew, even for the hour that it took me to walk home from the clinic downtown, made me feel so alone.

There was a reason she was the first person I called. My mother has common-sense, and she’s level-headed and calm. And I knew that she would be there for me, without missing a beat.

I wasn’t wrong. She spoke very calmly as she laid my options out on the table. They were the options I’d already been mulling over in my head all the way up Main Street, down Grand Boulevard and over to Cleveland, but they became more tangible once she uttered the words. Hearing them spoken aloud made them more manageable somehow.

She said if I didn’t want to go through with it, she would help me. If I chose to welcome a new member to our family, she would help me. Of course there was adoption as well. She said the hardest part is making a decision, and once I made up my mind about what I wanted to do, we would take it from there.

Hearing her voice on the other end of the line, the voice that had quietly guided me my entire life, I felt brave, and strong, and capable. She had given all those qualities to me.

The most important thing my mother told me that day was that everything would be okay.

And she was right. Six months later, I gave birth to my baby girl, the light of my life.

Thanks, Mom, for being there for me during the biggest decision of my life, and for all the years after. A single mom needs a guardian angel, and you are mine.

A mother is the truest friend we have.Washington Irving

Thursday, August 2, 2007

I Rock

“Mom, you rock! Don’t ever change!”

That’s nice to hear from the kid that I’ve poured the past 15 years of my life into. And no, it wasn’t uttered on the way to the concert I took her to recently, or because I let her stay out an hour later than usual with her friends, or after I gave her 20 bucks as I dropped her off at the mall.

It was actually after we finished a chat about boyfriends and relationships and life. I love that Mandy still talks to me about things. It’s gratifying that she trusts me, and appreciates my understanding ear and occasional advice.

Deep down, we all just want to be appreciated, don’t we? I know I do.

So I was extremely honored to be tagged with the Rockin’ Girl Blogger award by one of my favorite bloggers, my friend CS of Another Tangential Thinker. Granted, she tagged me with it about a month ago and probably thinks that I’ve forgotten about it, but I really am delighted!

But am I a Rockin’ Blogger?

Well, I’m not so sure about that. My blog isn’t all that rockin’… I tend to stay away from the controversial stuff, like religion or politics, or any of the hot buttons that get people to go from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye. You know what they are.

Additionally, I don’t curse much on here, haven’t posted any naked photos of myself, I don’t recall launching into any rants… not much of a rebel, am I?

No, I'm not one to rock the boat. I prefer to float along peacefully, taking in the sights, reflecting on the ones I’ve already seen, smiling at those who are traveling with me and recalling those with whom I’ve traveled before.

I’m not so sure I’m worthy of a Rockin’ Girl Blogger award. I’m just not that cool.

(But I’m honored that CS thinks so - Thank you!)

However, I think all of the women whose blogs I frequent are Rockin’ Girl Bloggers. Although I don’t come around to your blogs as often as I’d like (I will when I become independently wealthy and leave this cubicle life far, far behind me), I truly think you’re all so talented and your writing always brings me back for more. My sidebar is full of Rockin’ Girl Bloggers. (Rockin' Boy Bloggers too, but I don't think I've been authorized to distribute any of those.)

Many of you have already received this award, but if you haven’t, come pick it up! Here it is…

I’m telling you, You rock! Don’t ever change!
And for those of you who employ the "leapfrog method" of finding great blogs, I encourage you to check out my Favorite Destinations. There are so many wonderful writers out there...